Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) are in the UK on a country wide tour with their new creation; ‘Held’. The work is an innovative piece which combines photography with dance. Renowned dance photographer Lois Greenfield crouches on stage taking photographs while the company jump, contort and move across the stage.
Greenfield’s photos are instantaneously projected onto the backdrop, adding a new element to the performance and giving the audience the opportunity to see a moment of the dance they would otherwise miss.
Ms Greenfield’s career spans 30 years, in which she has photographed many legends of the dance world including Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham, as well as working on commercial ad campaigns and publishing collections of her work. 'Held' is her first choreographic collaboration. I met with Lois Greenfield, while she was in London on the firs leg of the UK tour of ‘Held’ to discuss the show and her work.
Can you explain the concept behind ‘Held’?
It’s about my work and photography in general. Its about seeing and being seen, presenting oneself for the camera, The art and processes of photography, the history of photography about 2 simultaneous time bases, seen virtually simultaneously: the fleeting present and the stilled, yet still ephemeral moment. How we look at photographs, our fascination with photographs.
You are a NYC based photographer- and ADT are in Adelaide- How did the collaboration come about?
I met Garry Stewart (ADT's director) in NYC in 2003 at a dance conference. He was a representative from the Australian dance contingent and we were introduced by mutual friends. I was just making conversation with him by telling him I had shot other Australian companies and, that when I shot the Australian ballet, in Melbourne, I did it with a digital camera in front of a small audience and the people saw the images go up instantly on a screen.
I was incredulous that people could be so "wowed" by this. Garry and I decided to get together after the conference and he proposed we collaborate on a dance involving my shooting live on the stage as part of the dance. Not knowing any better I said "sure!"
ADT are very athletic in style, so their work fits well with your style of photography- did that lead you to them?
No it was just by chance that we met, but I couldn't imagine a dance company that I am more suited to working with, not only because of their intense physicality, but also because of the creativity of the dancers.
I imagine a long collaborative process between you and Gary Stewart ensued. How did this work and did you enjoy it?
Very much so. The choreography began with an improvisational photo shoot in Adelaide, Australia that lasted two weeks in fall of 2003. Garry then embedded those images we created into the dance, and continued the choreography so as to produce moments he deduced I would like to shoot.
We also shot video footage and planned different scenes and the use of different photographic techniques, as in our "stroboscopic" scene. I returned in March and a few weeks later we premiered it at the Adelaide festival 2004 which had commissioned it.
The nature of the work means that each performance is inevitably very different and must produce different images- how much do you rehearse?
The dancers rehearse a lot, but as I live in NYC and they are in Australia, at this point I only rehearse with them in the few days before the shows. In the case of the performances at Sadler’s Wells in London this past week, I actually only got to work with the dancers for about 4 hours, which was especially tough because some of the dancers were knew and some of the choreography had changed as well.
Speaking of the Sadler's Wells performance, how did it feel to perform there, having already been on the stage in NYC, Paris and across Australia?
Like many young girls being taken to dance class, we had all heard of "Sadler's Wells" as one of the premier theatres in the world. Even though I never aspired to be a dancer naturally it was a thrill to be actually performing there.
You have been a photographer for over 30 years and are used to being behind the camera - how does it feel to actually be on stage with the audience watching you?
I actually feel physically comfortable on the stage, but nervous about the photos, all of which get projected live as I shoot them. I am used to shooting in a studio where I can control where the dancers are in my fixed frame. In "Held" I am onstage zooming in and out and following the live action, which is a big change from my working method
How do you feel modern dance is evolving, and dance photography?
The first question is beyond the realm of my expertise, but as to dance photography, many people are taking the kind of high energy group shots that I pioneered in the 80's. A new development that has become popular is taking the dancers out on the streets and photographing them outside.
Do you think because of this there will be more and more productions that involve photography/film?
Already we have a lot of "mixed media" performances. It’s the "live" aspect that makes "Held" groundbreaking. I suppose it will become more common. But what makes "Held" hard to imitate is the combination of the dancer’s ballistic style and my stop action images. The viewer gets to see moments of the dance that happened so much faster than the eye can "see".
So the juxtaposition of the captured instant with the rapid fire movement is startling: the dancers hurtling themselves through space at all angles end up looking serene for example, or glued together in wacky combinations and angles.
You have been touring with Held for over 2 year’s now- what is next for you?
I’ve been involved with held since 2003, and we performed at the Sydney opera house, in Monaco, NYC, Paris etc. but this year marks the first 2 tours, the fall in Japan and Europe and now in the UK until March 31st. So I’ve managed to fit the performances and even the tours into my "normal" routine of being a studio photographer doing a mix of assignments and TV commercials.
So after this tour is over I’ll be going home and picking up the pieces of my other projects. Firstly I’ll be putting together my annual wall calendar, breaking bounds 2009 already, working on a new book of my work, commercial jobs and art exhibits as well as planning a film on indigenous dance around the world.
Australian Dance Theatre will be touring the UK until the end of March.
all images by Lois Greenfield, courtesy of Australian Dance Theatre